Sustainability At Root Of ISU's New Innovation Network Hub | WGLT

Sustainability At Root Of ISU's New Innovation Network Hub

Feb 24, 2020

Illinois State University's Community Startup Incubator will be ready to hire staff and recruit companies as soon as construction begins on its Trail East home in Uptown Normal.

The Community Startup Incubator (CSI) is one of several tenants expected to move into the new $30 million Trail East building in Uptown. ISU has been told Trail East won't be ready to open until summer or fall 2021, said ISU Associate Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies John Baur. 

"As soon as we start seeing some dirt moving and know it's going to happen and our timeline, we're going to start hiring staff and hopefully start recruiting some tenants and some companies, so that when it does open, we're ready to go with a full slate of companies," Baur said on WGLT's Sound Ideas.

The incubator is one of two major pieces of ISU’s hub in the new Illinois Innovation Network. The incubator will be able to support up to 10 young businesses at a time, Baur said.

The start of construction on Trail East project has been delayed repeatedly. It was initially set to begin in spring 2019, with construction taking 14 months. Then it was October 2019, but when that didn’t happen officials said it could start in spring 2020. Demolition work has still not begun.

Baur said as soon as it does, the incubator will begin the search for a director and to recruit businesses who want to become “tenants” there.

A conceptual sketch of ISU's new makerspace that will be part of the Illinois Innovation Network.
Credit Illinois State University

Gov. JB Pritzker recently announced $500 million in capital funding for the Illinois Innovation Network and related Discovery Partners Institute. ISU expects to receive $3 million, Baur said.

Most of the state’s 12 Illinois Innovation Network hubs are on college campuses. Baur said it’s already making an impact.

“For the first time since I’ve been in this position, the universities are actually talking to each other frequently about collaborations, not only in research but in other form of economic and workforce development. It’s actually started a lot of conversations around the state,” he said.

The other major spoke in ISU’s hub will be the Community Makerspace and Educational Center, which is expected to open shortly after the incubator, Baur said.

The makerspace will likely be on campus, though a location hasn’t been selected. Officials hope the location will also provide a new, more centralized spot for ISU’s Center for Mathematics Science and Technology (CeMaST), which is today based at the Campus Religious Center on Mulberry Street.

“I hope it develops into a place where people go when they need really creative people to brainstorm with,” said CeMaST director Rebekka Darner. “It’s a place where creative people come together to collaborate and brainstorm innovative solutions to problems they’re encountering every day.”

Darner said the makerspace could become a regular field trip destination for K-12 students in central Illinois, which ISU doesn’t have the space or equipment to do right now, she said.

ISU’s Illinois Innovation Network hub’s theme will be sustainability—ecological, economic, and social.

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